Obituary: David Herd, Scottish football internationalist starred for Arsenal and Manchester United

Striker David Herd. Picture:Terry Disney/Central Press/Getty Images
Striker David Herd. Picture:Terry Disney/Central Press/Getty Images
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David George Herd, Scottish football internationalist. Born 15 April, 1934 in Hamilton. Died 1 October, 2016, in Manchester, aged 82.

FORMER Arsenal, Manchester United and Scotland centre forward David Herd has died, after a five-year battle against vasculard.

Tall, dark, handsome, perma-tanned, Herd fitted in well to the image of the great Manchester United team of the mid-1960s. The “Golden Trinity” of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton were the poster boys of the team, but Herd was just one of many internationalists who helped build on the legacy of the Busby Babes and turn Old Trafford into the “Theatre of Dreams”.

He had been born in Hamilton, his mother sent “up the road” by his father Alex, then playing for Manchester City. Indeed, David was born less than two weeks before Alex won his FA Cup-winners medal when City beat Portsmouth in the 1934 final.

David left school in Moss Side to sign for Stockport County as an amateur, going on to make his professional debut, alongside his father, as a 17-year old in April, 1951. David marked his debut with a goal in a 2-0 defeat of Hartlepool United.

He spent three seasons with County, during which he did his National Service, but, on his appearances for his club in the old Third Division North, he did enough to attract the attention of bigger clubs. Matt Busby, his father’s old team-mate and friend wanted to add the young Herd to the ranks of his promising Busby Babes, but, he was out-bid by Arsenal, who paid £10,000 to take him to Highbury in 1954.

He joined the Gunners in what is now known as “The Dark Era”. The team which had won the FA Cup in 1950 and the League in 1953 was breaking up and during Herd’s seven years in North London, the Gunners never finished better than third. That was in 1958-59, the season in which Herd won the first of his five Scottish caps, when he was one of four debutants named for the opening Home Internaitonal of the season, against Wales, in Cardiff.

Scotland were rebuilding after the disappointment of the 1958 World Cup Finals. The selectors still picked the squad, but, Matt Busby was the new manager, with Dave Mackay the new captain and optimism was high.

Another of the debutants, the 18-year-old Denis Law was the star of a 3-0 win in Cardiff. Herd didn’t score, but he opened his Scotland account next time out, in a 2-2 draw with Northern Ireland, at Hampden, before making it three from three games in that year’s Home Internaitonals by retaining the number nine jersey for the trip to Wembley.

After defeat in London, he was dropped for Motherwell’s Ian St John and he was not asked back until he replaced St John, one of those who paid the price for the 9-3 roasting at Wembley in 1961.

Against the Republic of Ireland at Hampden, in Scotland’s first match of the 1962 World Cup qualifying campaign, Herd and Rangers’ Ralphie Brand, who had replaced the disgraced Law – dropped for kicking Bobby Robson right in front of the Queen – each scored twice in a morale-boosting 4-1 win.

Injury kept him out of the return game in Dublin, before he was re-called to win his fifth and final cap in the 0-4 loss to Czechoslovakia, in Bratislava.

Just weeks later Busby – who had not only been David Herd’s first international team manager, but also his father’s team-mate and Scotland captain when Alex Herd made his solitary Scotland appearance, in a Scottish team which beat England 5-4 at Hampden in a war-time “international” in 1942 – finally got his man, paying Arsenal £35,000 to take Herd back to the city in which he had grown up. David Herd would spend seven seasons with United, as they completed their recovery from the Munich Air Crash to win English League titles in 1965 and 1967 and the FA Cup in 1963 – with Herd scoring twice as United beat Leicester City 3-1 to win United’s first English trophy since the legendary “Busby Babes” had won the 1957 League Championship. He and his father are therefore on the short list of father and son FA Cup winners.

Herd was a consistent rather than a “heavy” goal-scorer. With Arsenal, he scored 107 goals in1 80 games, an average of 0.59 goals per game (gpg). He is still 15th in the list of all-time Arsenal goal scorers. His best season for Arsenal was his last, 1960-61, when he scored 30 goals.

He is 13th in the list of all-time Manchester United goal-scorer, scoring more than 20 goals in four of his seven seasons, and hitting the net on 145 occasions in his 265 games for the club, an average of 0.55 gpg.

After breaking his leg in March, 1967, he was a mainly peripheral figure – although his appearance against Gornik in the quarter-final entitled him to a European Cup-winner’s medal in 1968. Like Law, he was a frustrated spectator at the final at Wembley.

He did set a high standard for scoring with United, bagging goals on his debut in five different competitions – the League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the European Cup and the European Cup-winner’s Cup.

At the end of that European Cup-winning 1967-68 season he left United, for Stoke, where he spent two seasons, before winding down his playing career with a season with Waterford Town, then managed by old United team mate Shay Brennan, in the League of Ireland. In all, he played 511 club games, scoring 269 goals, giving him a more-than-respectable average of 0.53 gpg – better than Law’s.

Herd then spent a short period as manager of Lincoln City, before leaving football to enter the motor trade in the Manchester area, running a garage in Urmston right up until he reached state retirement age in 1999.

He had first invested in the business in 1965, already looking ahead to the end of his playing career. It gave him ample opportunity to indulge in his love of fast cars, while his sporting instincts were satisfied by his long-time membership of Ashton-on-Mersey Golf Club – where he had a low handicap for many years, and by playing cricket for various club sides around his home in South Manchester.

A “destructive” batsman, he was still playing first-team cricket into his 60s, while, away from the sports field, he enjoyed cruising holidays, visited Malta at least once each year and made two trips back to Scotland each year, to see family and to attend the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrew’s, which he loved.

David Herd’s marriage to Joan ended in divorce. He is survived by his only son Alex and by grandsons David and Peter.

By any measure, David Herd was a true, international-class striker. However, he is yet another example of a great player, in a great side, who was unable to convince the SFA Selection Committee, who picked the national side at the time, of his qualities.

Given the goals that they scored in tandem for United – what might a Herd/Law front pairing have done for Scotland?

MATTHEW VALLANCE